Summer quiet

Mountain sunset

I am trying to keep my summer internet free, so I won’t write, read blog posts or comment for the next month. I do plan to read plenty of books though, which I am sure I will want to discuss with you all in August. I hope you all will have great summers!

 

Advertisements

The father and the sea

DSC_0459

Moominpappa at sea by Tove Jansson is the second to last Moomin novel and takes place at the same time as Moominvalley in November.

It starts as the Moominpappa is going through a bit of a life-crisis. Things are getting a bit too comfortable and he starts to suspect that his family doesn’t really need him anymore. The solution is obviously for the family to leave their comfortable home and move to an isolated lighthouse where the father can prove his pioneer spirit (I want to blame Moominpappa for this but while it may have been his dream it was actually Moominmamma who decided it).

The result is a melancholy story about a family growing apart from each other, carried by Jansson’s amazing ability to write characters and scenes that feel absolutely true, although centred around a family of Moomintrolls.

While all Moomin novels have a touch of melancholy it is more dominant in the two last ones. In some ways I feel that the earlier Moomin novels are children’s novels that can be read by adults, while these last two are adult’s novels that can be read by children.

Moominpappa at Sea is part of my classics club reading challenge. As it was first published in 1965 I also want to use it for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge. However, I’m not sure whether to use it as my Classic Comic Novel or my Classic Tragic Novel, as common in Nordic literature it includes quite a bit of both.

Memories around books

text

I come from a family where reading is valued and books abundant, something which has undoubtedly shaped my taste (and given me an academic advantage). Books matter to me, not just as vessels for text, but as objects. The first thing I do when I spend more than one night in a new place is to place all the books I brought or bought somewhere where I can see them. In my eyes a shelf of books will always make a home more inviting, something I believe most book-lovers would agree on (and most real estate agents would question). Books may not be all I need to make a place a home but they are a good start.

After spending a few days handling my books as I selected which ones to place an ex libris in and carefully glued it on, I have started to think deeper about books as objects. Vessel of information/entertainment, object of beauty, identity marker, status symbol, paperweight, memorabilia and link to previous readers, there are so many roles a book can potentially fill. Of course in most cases the text is what is important, in which case the best answer to the eternal paper book vs ebook question is probably whatever is most convenient. However, the last few days have reminded me of just how full of memories some of my books are. Memories of past reads, of the person who gave the book to me or of the time I bought them. For some books those memories are more important to me than the actual texts.

I have really enjoyed spending some time with my books and rediscovering those memories. As of now 34 of my books have gotten bookplates, which feels like a good starting point. I also have a notebook where I write a few notes on each book I label, to remind myself why they are important to me. So those books are properly catalogued, even though none of my other books are.

I have found the whole process to be a good reminder of just why I like to surround myself with physical books, something I didn’t expect when I first decided that I wanted my own bookplates. I guess rearranging my bookshelves might have fulfilled the same purpose of spending time with my books, but this was more fun.

What about you, which roles do your books fill?

 

Ex Libris

Book pile

When I first started out planning which books I would use my ex libris for, I assumed that it would more or less be a list of my favourite books. However, when I actually started to consider which of my books I really wanted my ex libris in, it became more complicated. Instead of asking myself if a particular text was a favourite of mine, I found myself thinking more about the physical book and whether or not I would want to hang on to that particular edition forever. Some of my favourite books are almost falling apart and will eventually have to be replaced so those hardly make sense to label. Others I have in more than one edition and deciding which edition to label is not trivial. Take the Narnia books for example, should I place my ex libris in the Swedish edition which I read again and again as a child but which is now brown or fragile, or in my quality English edition, which I have no personal history with, but which I most likely would choose for a reread?

For now I have deferred any difficult decisions and only placed them in books I plan to keep through good times and bad.

These were the first ten I selected:

Sommarboken (The Summer Book) by Tove Jansson

A favourite book by a favourite author, an easy choice.

Nordisk fjällflora (Field Guide to Nordic Mountain Flowers) by Örjan Nilsson

I’m not much of an amateur botanist but my grandmother was and this field guide is full of her notes on flowers she has seen. As I spend much time in the Swedish mountains I got it as a gift from her. The fact that it already contained her ex libris made it extra special.

Kastanjeallén by Dea Trier Mørch

My mother has selected a small book canon which all her children are getting, and out of those this one is probably my favourite. The way it describes life from a child’s point of view is not unlike Jansson’s The Summer Book.

Bröderna Lejonhjärta (Brothers Lionheart) by Astrid Lindgren

Death, courage and love. This is one of the bravest children’s book I know.

Visor och ballader by Dan Andersson

Poetry by Dan Andersson, one of my favourite poets.

The hunting of the snark by Lewis Carroll

I’m not sure why I love this nonsense poem so much but I do, especially the description of the sea chart without the least vestige of land. My edition has Tove Jansson’s illustrations in it which of course makes it particularly good.

Århundradets kärlekshistoria (Love story of a century) by Märta Tikkanen

Memoir of a dysfunctional marriage in lyrical form, this one is a classic.

Fermat’s Last Theorem by Simon Singh

I have read this one so many times that I had to replace my original softcover edition which was falling apart. Admittedly a slightly weird book for a teenage obsession but a perfect antidote to all the math hating protagonists in children’s and YA literature. (Why do authors keep using this trope? No wonder that children conclude that math ability is something you are born with rather than something you learn).

Antarktisboken ( The White Desert: The official account of the Norwegian–British–Swedish Antarctic Expedition) by John Giæver and others

I love the Arctic and the Antarctic but have always been more interested in the science part than in the patriotic flag-planting adventures. This account from a Norwegian-British-Swedish research expedition to Queen Maud Land in 1949-1952 is thus perfect.

How the universe got its spots

Well-written memoir/diary with interesting musings on cosmology. I got it as a gift from a friend at my dissertation which makes it extra special.

 

 

 

Rereadings

bookshelfI love rereading, the comfortable security in revisiting a book I know is good and the excitement of finding new details or perspectives in a favourite book, always mingled with the fear that what once was brilliant might magically have turned unreadable. In Rereadings  17 writers reread books they have read in childhood or youth and write personal essays around them. It is not reviews but rather personal reflections on the role a beloved book have had in their lives and how their relation to it have changed over time. The result are essays full of the love of books and reading and as a book-lover I found it a fascinating read. I especially enjoyed Barbara Sjoholm’s chapter on The Snow Queen and the one by Diana Kappel Smith on A Field Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and North-Central North America.

The essays, which were originally published in The American Scholar, have been selected by Anne Fadiman who is also author of my favourite book about books, Ex Libris. Recommended!

On a different topic I am happy to find that I finally feel inspired to step outside of my reading comfort zone again, after months of primarily reading British Library Crime Classics and similar. I am currently reading Khirbet Khizah by S. Yizhar (so far I find it well-written, interesting, and deeply disturbing) and have three books in the Penguin European Writers series heading my way.

Kallocain

tiles

Kallocain is a dystopian novel by Karin Boye, a Swedish author otherwise best known for her poetry. First published in 1941 it drew inspiration from Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We and the political situations in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union at the time. However, it carefully avoids too close resemblance to either country, partly to avoid the censure which was active in Sweden during WW2.

As in Zamyatin’s We and Orwell’s 1984, which it pre-dates with eight years, it takes place in an dystopian future where an authoritarian state sees and controls everything. The protagonist, Leo Kall, is a chemist who invents a truth serum, Kallocain, which will make anyone reveal their deepest thoughts. Such a serum is of course a valuable weapon to a state which wants to control every aspect of the lives of its subjects, but the truth also has some unexpected side-effect, including in Leo Kall’s own life.

I read Kallocain for the first time in high-school but included it on my Classics Club reading list as I wanted to revisit it as an adult. However, I’m not really sure why I keep reading these classical dystopias as I don’t really enjoy them. Of course they explore interesting topics, but I prefer to connect with the characters in a novel and the extreme brainwashing generally suffered by the characters in these novels makes that very hard. I did like this one a bit better than 1984 though, so I would recommend it to anyone who do enjoy dystopias.

As it is a Swedish classic I count it as my Classic From a Place You’ve Lived for my Back to the Classics Reading Challenge.

 

Spring reading and Ex libris

old oak tree

Spring is well on its way (although we did have an unexpected snowfall yesterday) and it’s once again time to look back on my reading. Overall this has been a rather disappointing spring for reading. I have been tired and overworked, and as a consequence have reverted back to safe and easy reads, such as the British Library Crime Classics. Many of these have been great fun but I miss having the energy and courage to explore new authors and literary traditions.

In total I have read 21 books by authors from seven countries, which sounds quite good but a closer look at the data reveals that all but one, The three-body problem by Cixin Liu, came from the Anglosphere or a Nordic country.

The best read so far has been Durrell’s My family and other animals but I also really liked Napier’s A late beginner, Cixin Liu’s The three-body problem and some of the British Library Crime Classics.

Reading challenges

Reading classics

So far I have read, but not reviewed, one novel from my Classics club reading list, Kallocain by Karin Boye. I have not yet reviewed any books for the Back to the classics reading challenge, although some of the books I have read could count toward the challenge.

Keep reading books by African, Asian and South American authors

Here too I am struggling, although The three-body problem gives me one author from China. Technically I could also count Gerald Durrell for India, as he was born there (I have found country of birth to be a somewhat less confusing way to organize the authors than nationality), but that feels like cheating.

Book buying

I decided not to limit the number of books I bought this year, as long as the total cost was no more than what I spent last year. So far that seems to have worked, I have spent slightly less than I did the first four months last year, finally a challenge I am managing!

Other bookish news: Bookplates

I come from a bookplate using family, both my parents and my grandmother have their own ex libris labels and I have long longed for one of my own. Frequent visits to second-hand book shops have however taught me that this is very far from the norm. Despite the fact that a substantial proportion of my books are bought second-hand, I don’t think I own any with a bookplate not from my own family. I have a suspicion that bookplates may have enjoyed a brief popularity thirty years ago, at the time when my parents got theirs, but have been out of fashion ever since.

Fortunately being out of fashion has never really bothered me, but it has made it hard to find a good-looking high-quality bookplate to use. In the end I found that Slightly Foxed had a small but beautiful selection and choose one of them, and now I am eagerly awaiting their arrival and contemplating which of my books that would benefit from an ex libris. I don’t plan to use it on all my books, just the ones closest to my heart which I expect to keep through any future moves or book culls. Right now I take great pleasure in considering which these books are.

How about you? How’s your spring reading going? Anyone else using bookplates or am I entirely out of fashion there?